Ivey: State must be ‘smart’ about pandemic relief funds

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey waves as she arrives to deliver her State of the State Address at the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday evening January 11, 2022.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey waves as she arrives to deliver her State of the State Address at the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday evening January 11, 2022.

Mickey Welsh, The Montgomery Advertiser via AP

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday urged lawmakers to use federal pandemic relief funds on longstanding problems such as broadband access and water and sewer infrastructure, but also praised Alabama’s legal effort to block the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates.

Ivey delivered the annual State of the State address to lawmakers on the opening day of the Alabama Legislature, praising the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic. She urged lawmakers to use federal relief dollars “to meet some of Alabama’s biggest challenges like statewide broadband connectivity, water and sewer infrastructure” and to invest in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers.

“We must be smart with this one-time money and commit to the people of Alabama that we will invest –- not just casually spend -– these dollars. I’ll say again that these federal dollars are just one-time funds. This is not free money,” Ivey said.

How to use the money will be one of the major issues before lawmakers in the session that began Tuesday.

The governor asked lawmakers to make allocating the money an early priority of the session. The state came under criticism for using $400 million of the state’s $2 billion in relief funds for prison construction.

Ivey is expected to meet with legislative leaders on Wednesday to discuss funding priorities as well as whether to call a special session to isolate the issue.

The speech was shorter than in years past. The most fiery segment of the Republican governor’s speech came as she discussed efforts to challenge federal vaccine requirements. Alabama joined other Republican-led states in filing multiple lawsuits to try to block the requirements.

“From the moment the White House rolled out their scare tactic plans to try to force the COVID-19 vaccine on Americans, I assured the people of Alabama that we were standing firmly against it. And I’ll call this nonsense what it is: That is an un-American, outrageous breach of our federal law,” Ivey told lawmakers.

Alabama is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases because of the omicron variant. As a precaution, seating was limited at the governor’s address. Masks were suggested, but not required for attendees.

Ivey proposed 4% pay raises for state and school employees, more funding for school programs to make up for lost learning during the pandemic.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, a Democrat from Huntsville, said he was “underwhelmed” by the governor’s proposed 4% pay increase for educators. He argued it should be more to both reward educators who struggled through the pandemic and to combat the state’s teacher shortage.

“I think anything less than 5% is a waste of time, given that our educators have been on the frontline risking their lives and risking the lives of their families and making a huge sacrifice. That should mean something,” Daniels said.

The governor said she is also proposing resources for grants for low-performing elementary schools. Ivey is also supporting legislation to create a math task force that would recommend recruiting and retaining math teachers and to boost student test scores.

She also proposed a $12 million investment for two additional mental health crisis centers, as well as other health services.

Ivey, who faces challengers in the May primary, spent much of her speech, touting the state’s economic recovery. She also highlighted past actions by her administration, such as the prison plan and road and bridge construction. She used the speech to announce a construction project to widen a section of Interstate-59 near Birmingham – spanning from Chalkville Mountain Road to I-459 near Trussville, from four lanes to six lanes.

“Clearly, with one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, Alabama is on the fast track,” Ivey said.

Ivey also used a portion of her speech to praise U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby who is retiring after six terms in the U.S. Senate. She said Shelby has “been instrumental in giving Alabama a seat at the table and has been vital in our state’s successes.”


Birmingham mayor proposes largest city budget ever

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin introduced a $517 million budget proposal, the largest in city history, during Tuesday’s city council meeting.

‘Better isn’t good enough’: Starbucks workers in Birmingham, New Orleans discuss unionizing

Starbucks stores in Birmingham and New Orleans could be the next to unionize. Those leading the efforts sit down to discuss why and what they've learned so far.

WBHM to launch podcast featuring in-depth reporting on Alabama’s prisons.

WBHM 90.3 FM is launching a podcast, “Deliberate Indifference: the story of Alabama’s prison crisis and the people inside it,” the product of reporter Mary Scott Hodgin’s in-depth research on Alabama’s prisons. The first episode will be available Wednesday, May 18. Listen at DeliberateIndifference.org or wherever podcasts are available.

Judge’s ruling a “sigh of relief” for families of transgender youth

A federal judge in Alabama ruled to block part of a law that makes it a felony to provide gender-affirming care to minors on Friday. Families with transgender kids tell WBHM they are cautiously relieved.

Transgender medication law in Alabama blocked by judge

The law made it a felony to prescribe gender-affirming puberty blockers and hormones to transgender minors. U.S. District Judge Liles Burke issued a preliminary injunction to stop the state from enforcing the medication ban, which took effect May 8, while a court challenge goes forward.

JeffCo Probate Judge: tightened security will delay voting returns in the primaries

Jefferson County’s chief election official is warning that a new voting security measure will delay returns from the May 24 primary elections.

More 2022 Legislative Session Coverage